As the pandemic is currently preventing everyone from coming together, this year the CollectInternational Art Fair for Contemporary Craft and Design will take place online, with Artsy.net as the exclusive hosts. Each exhibiting gallery will have their own online ‘booth’ to display their artists’ work for sale, and there will be a week of accompanying talks and events alongside interviews and films.
The Life Support series of work, which will be seen for the first time at the fair, was created throughout 2020 in response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The series of beeswax wildflower sculptures tell a deeply personal story of this moment in history. Each one is displayed in its own protective hand-blown glass bubble and mounted on a custom CNC lathed stainless steel base. They encapsulate my thoughts and feelings and illustrate the importance of our access to nature through gardens, parklands and green city centre spaces at this time of crisis.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been collecting my research photographs and images of the making process, and organising them into a video sequence to illustrate how the project evolved over time. Here is a preview clip from the finished video showing the making of a primrose flower.
The full version will be available to view in accompaniment to the artwork on display at the Collect 2021 fair. It looks to be a wonderful online event and I hope you will be able to join us there from the comfort and safety of your own homes.
With only a few days to go until the Crafts Council Collect 2020 International Art Fair for Modern Craft and Design at Somerset House, my Collect Open beeswax wildflower installation is now complete and I’m able to share a little more information about the project and the finished artwork.
My Collect Open project has been made using traditional wax modelling techniques from honey bee wax provided by Assistant Professor Scott McArt, at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University, New York.
The wax that I’ve used for sculpting was collected by Scott from around 10 different honey bee colonies in central New York, some at the Dyce Lab for Honey Bee Studies and some from hobby beekeepers near the University. One sample was also taken from a commercial beekeeper who’s bees had just been used for commercial blueberry pollination in New Jersey. The beekeeper noticed that his bees were not doing well after pollinating the blueberries, so he sent wax, pollen, and dead honey bee pupae from his colonies to the lab for analysis.
The results of the analysis, conducted at the Cornell Chemical Ecology Core Facility, show an extensive list of pesticide residues in the wax samples. There is also a marked difference between the number of pesticides found in the wax samples taken from the hives used for commercial pollination services and those from hobby beekeepers.
As my wildflower sculptures contain physical traces of these pesticide residues, I will be listing them clearly as the artist’s materials used to create my installation. (It is interesting to note that if Scott had sent me different wax samples from honey bees used for commercial almond pollination in California, my list of artist’s materials would have doubled in size.)
Beeswax has traditionally been used in the creation of scientific models for education and botanical sculpture became particularly popular during the advent of the public museum in the 19th century. Artists were able to use the life like quality and translucency of the medium to create realistic and beautiful representations of plants for gallery displays, in order to engage visitors with scientific discovery.
Here are just a few of the historic beeswax plant sculptures from the scientific collections at National Museum Wales.
My work for Collect Open 2020 continues this tradition, aiming to raise awareness of the widespread use of agricultural chemicals and the transfer of these chemicals from agricultural crops to wildflowers and pollinators, promoting discussion on the man-made issues which have contributed to the global decline of pollinating insects.
My installation of beeswax wildflower sculptures will be presented in a custom made jewellery box with the title Treasure. This can be interpreted in several different ways; as a noun meaning a collection of very valuable things, or a verb meaning to take great care of something because you love it or consider it very valuable. It also refers to a wealth which is hidden or buried, giving the viewer a hint to the value of the scientific information hidden in the beeswax samples.
Treasure poses the questions, what should we collect, protect and keep safe? What precious things will be of the greatest importance and value as we begin to understand the scale of change in this era of the Anthropocene?
For questions about the pesticide residue analysis on the honey bee wax samples or the research and extension activities at the McArt lab, you can contact Dr. Scott McArt directly by email firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MaArtLab.
In November 2017 I attended the Cross-pollination, Revaluing Pollinators through Arts and Science Collaboration conference at Swansea College of Art. The conference marked the end of a successful and pioneering project funded by both the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Arts Council of Wales, combining Art with Science to explore new insight into perceptions of the value of honeybees and wild pollinators.
As an artist I’ve spent most of my career working alongside scientists on science communication projects and my current work focuses on the protection of nature and features pollinating insects, so the project was of great interest to me.
At the conference I heard many fascinating lectures and discussions but it was my chance conversation with Assistant Professor Scott McArt, from the Entomology Department at Cornell University, that sparked a creative idea which has developed into a collaborative piece of artwork, soon to be exhibited in the new PolliNation exhibition at the Mann Gallery in Cornell.
Scott’s NYS Beekeeper Tech Team at Cornell had been conducting research to promote best management practices to improve honey bee health and reduce colony losses. The team had been examining pesticide levels in wax from honey bee colonies in New York State and had collected many wax samples which were analysed and shown to contain pesticide residues. The honey bees had been visiting wildflowers which were contaminated with agrochemicals and transferring those chemicals to their wax. I specialise in creating botanical sculptures with wax, a skill that I learnt whilst caring for a unique collection of over 1000 wax models in the Amgueddfa Cymru scientific collections. The idea for the artwork was to use the beeswax containing pesticide residues as an artist’s material to create sculptures of the contaminated wildflowers. The pesticides residues would be listed clearly as the materials used to create the work, thus communicating Scott’s research in a subtle and powerful way.
I decided to start by creating some test pieces to see how feasible it would be to work with the Cornell wax. Scott was able to post me some wax samples from his lab, which I melted down to remove any traces of honey, then coloured and sculpted into flower forms. The wax was very flexible and easy to work with in comparison to the refined white beeswax that I normally use.
The next stage of the project was to choose which wild flowers to represent in the final piece of artwork. I was able to look at reports from the NYS Beekeeper Tech Team on pesticide residues and data from Scott’s lab on pesticides in wildflowers that are adjacent to apple orchards New York. One of the wildflowers listed was Fragaria vesca, Wild strawberry, which contained one of the highest levels of total pesticides recorded in parts per billion. I decided to focus on this plant not only because it was loaded with pesticides, but also because it was a common wildflower in both the Ithaca region of New York State and here in South Wales. Luckily I had some wild strawberry plants growing in my front garden which I was able to use as fresh reference material, even if it was winter and there were no fruits or flowers to be seen!
The final sculpture took several weeks to complete. I created moulds from the fresh plant leaves in my garden with silicone and plaster, which I then cast in coloured molten wax. I made stems and plant runners from waxed tinned copper wire, and petals, sepals and stamens from waxed silk fabric and threads. The strawberry fruits were made from wax coated dressmaking beads and I attached tiny plant hairs made from silk to the stems and leaves. The sculpture was finished with acrylic paints and varnishes and displayed in Pyrex glass measuring beakers in reference to the scientific nature of the work.
This is the finished piece and the accompanying title which describes all the materials that I used to create the work.
*These pesticide residues were also found on nearby
Finally the sculpture had to be packed very carefully for its journey to Cornell University. I placed it in a strong cardboard box and secured it with dressmaking pins and Plastazote supports to prevent any movement. It is due to be taken in hand luggage on a flight to America next week by one of the project artists, so it’s certainly getting some special treatment and will hopefully arrive in good condition ready to be set up in the display.
The PolliNation exhibition at the Mann Gallery runs from April 15th until 30th September 2019.
Many thanks to the artists, Linda Norris for inviting me to the Cross-Pollination conference and Sarah Tombs and the Swansea College of Art, Art/Science group for kindly including my work in the Cornell Mann Gallery display. Thanks also to the scientists, Assistant Professor Scott McArt for giving me the opportunity to create a piece of artwork from his research and to the National Museum Wales botany curator Sally Whyman for sharing her expert knowledge of the collections.
I have long been a fan of the magical textile creations of Mister Finch, so when I heard about his solo exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, I knew I had to visit! Luckily I was able to plan a trip over the summer as part of a family holiday and I’m so glad that I did. Each character in ‘The Wish Post‘ display, from toadstools to woodland creatures, has been brought to life with recycled materials and found accessories, and given a role in the artist’s fairy tale story. It was fantastic to finally see the detailed sculptures of this humble and talented maker first hand.
I was also able to walk for miles around the fields, lake and forest of the beautiful sculpture park, following the trail to find some truly inspiring artwork along the way. The highlight of my visit was walking into the chapel courtyard and being able to see and touch the cold cast metal surface of Ai Weiwei’s ‘Iron Tree‘. Then entering the 18th century chapel building itself to see Chiharu Shiota’s ‘Beyond Time‘ installation of woven white threads; a breathtaking experience.
Mister Finch: ‘The Wish Post’ is open until Sunday 23rd September and Chiharu Shiota: ‘Beyond Time’ is open until 4th November. Ai Weiwei’s ‘Iron Tree’ is part of the YSP open air collection along with the other sculptures featured in my images. A visit to this wonderful park is highly recommended.
During my latest trip to London I was able to visit the ‘Fashioned from Nature‘ exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum. I was excited to see the display for several reasons, I have a degree in textile design, a love of nature and many years’ experience working with natural science collections in the museum sector, so an exhibition that combines these passions was always going to be at the top of my list. But the display is not just an incredible collection of objects, it tells a complex story of the relationship between the fashion industry and nature from 1600 to the present day. It shows how the beauty of the natural world has inspired fashion designers, how natural materials are processed to create fabrics and used to adorn garments and it illustrates clearly the negative impact that the fashion industry and we as consumers continue to make on the natural world. The exhibition is powerful and inspiring, and I will certainly be thinking more about my fashion choices in the future.
Group of flowers modelled in wax from nature. John Haynes Mintorn (1824-88) London, about 1875. Wax, wire and cloth
‘Russia Collection’ evening gown. Jean Paul Gaultier (b.1952) Paris, 1997. Taffeta with beads simulating leopard fur and rhinestone claws
X-ray showing hat and starling. Hat – Modes du Louvre, Paris about 1885. X-ray photography by Nick Veasey 2016
Fan. Britain 1880-1900. Turtle shell, ostrich feathers probably from South Africa and silk.
‘Floral Helmet’ Philip Treacy (b.1967) London, 2016. Cotton, velvet, silk, and waxed flowers
Engraved clear Perspex handbag, possibly made in France, early 1950s
Earrings. Brazil, about 1875. Male red-legged honeycreeper
Dress. Britain 1868-9. Cotton, gilded metal thread and Indian jewel beetles. Over 5000 beetle wings were used to decorate this dress
‘Bird-witched’ shoes. Masaya Kushino (b.1982) Japan, 2014. Nile crocodile, gilded metal and cockerel feathers
I’ve been to Kew on many occasions to work in the herbarium with the curatorial staff or visit the collections behind the scenes, but the schedule has always been tight and there has never been enough spare time for me to take a good look around the gardens. That’s why I was delighted to visit again last week for the Handmade at Kew 2017 show which took place in the Kew Palace Lawn Pavilion. It was a chance to see some world class contemporary crafts and an opportunity to meet the talented makers and talk about the influences and processes behind their work. The show coincided with the final few days of the Sculpt at Kew exhibition, with 30 artists presenting figurative, abstract and modern sculptures in an outdoor trail throughout the beautiful gardens.
I was also able to spend time exploring the fabulous rain forest plants and iconic Victorian architecture of the Palm House, the ten different environments in the Princess of Wales Conservatory and the 17 foot tall multi-sensory bee experience called The Hive.
Kew Gardens has the largest and most diverse collection of living plants in the world, so I’ve still only seen the smallest part of it and I’d love to see more. I’ll have to visit again soon!